Travel Comment

Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

Winston Aldworth: There and back again

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Of all the world's airports, the name Heathrow is most synonymous with travel nightmares. Blame the size and the unplanned sprawl of it, combined with the flair for stuffing up big projects that has become the hallmark of modern Britain.

With more than 190,000 passengers arriving or departing daily, a nightmare queue is never far away. Auckland International has about 17,500 passengers go through daily.

So news that Heathrow has brought in fast-track lanes at Customs for visitors from wealthy Westernised countries (that's us, despite what your pay packet tells you) is good for Kiwis.

There's a talkback-caller logic to New Zealanders getting into a fast-track lane. Shuffling through the disaster that is the non-EU gates at Heathrow, I have often envied those in the EU-passport lane. More than once my Kiwi fellow travellers would point out to their British mates that back in the 1940s they welcomed New Zealanders in with far greater haste.

But the new system has the whiff of casual racism. Habib Rahman, of the UK Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, says it's "based on wealth ... and it discriminates against people from the developing world".

"There is no evidence to suggest visitors from other countries are less trustworthy than visitors from these countries."

I agree with him. But that won't detract from my relief at joining the faster queue.

Heathrow has been undergoing improvements and expansions - some bit-part, some huge - for years. It must - this airport remains the main gateway into Britain. More than 80 per cent of visitors for the Olympics are expected to pass through its hectic gates.

A friend of mine went through a Heathrow departure that he now narrates with the 1000-yard stare of a Vietnam War veteran. He tells Tolkienesque epic, complete with a 36-hour wait for a flight, a 2km run through snow and tears of joy from passengers as a 747 finally got airborne. And those are the happy bits.

There's a flipside to the friendly fast-track. One of the favoured techniques among Kiwis working in London on dodgy visas has been to join the immigration line behind a Middle Eastern or African traveller. The crafty Kiwis banked on said traveller being of more interest to the Customs officials.

In this new fast-track system, there'll be no one less fortunate to hide behind.

ET send postcard home

News reaches us that the British Ministry of Defence once believed aliens might visit Earth for a holiday. A 1995 MoD paper theorised that ETs might drop in for "military reconnaissance", "scientific" research" or "tourism".

As odd as it sounds, it's not a bad theory. After all, those are the three things that have taken Westerners to the developing world.

It's to be hoped holidaymaking aliens would have a modern view of the Third Tourist Destination From the Sun: Take only holograms, leave only three-toed pawprints and bewildered hillbillies.

If holidaymaking aliens do decide to come back with a full invasion fleet, we'd best hope they land at Heathrow. They wouldn't stand a chance.

- NZ Herald

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